interviewed by Nate Chinen
One of the things that we've talked about before was the time you
spend on the scene in Washington, D.C. When did you get to D.C. and what
was the nature of your experience there?
Well, to retrace a little bit, I grew up just outside of Philadelphia,
and I wound up going to Baltimore to go to undergraduate school at Towson
State University. And because Baltimore is only an hour from Washington,
D.C., the jazz scenes in those two cities are very interconnected. In order
to make a living in that area, all the players in D.C. also worked in Baltimore
and vice versa. And I guess word travels fast in a small scene. As everywhere,
bass players were in demand, so I got to work with people far superior
to me on their instruments, at a very early age. Marc Copland was one of
the first musicians I began playing with in Washington. He took me under
his wing and exposed me to many different concepts of playing that basically
blew my mind at the time. very advanced harmonikc and conceptual ideas
that I hadn't even begun to grapple with. My experience with him was basically
like a mentor relationship. I met him around 1979, and like I said, I was
a player that could get around on the instrument but really had little
experience and not a tremendous amount of harmonic experience. But he basically
made me realize all the power that the bass has to redefine harmonic motion.
Because the way he playes the piano, he leaves room for me to put a name
to the harmonic structures he's playing. Part of the fantastic thing about
his playing is that it leaves so much open for me as a bassist to contribute.
There are so many right choices that can go along with what he plays; it's
like being a kid in a candy store, in a way. There's so much freedom allotted
me, even though he plays these dense sounds, that any one of a number of
pitches could be the appropriate thing to play at any one given time.
So being presented with those choices was a bit of a wake-up call.
Yes. I still remember the first session I played with him, it was just
a duo session at his house. He basically showed me about 20 different ways
to play the first eight bars of "All of You." And for somebody that was
used to learning tunes from the Real Book and thinking that that's where
it ended ? at that time it was just a mind-boggling experience.
Did you go to Towson State for music?
I did, yes. My background in high school was really that of someone
that played in... we had an accomplished jazz band there, a big band. So
I desired to be a part of that, to get my classmates to keep from picking
on me since I was the smallest boy in my class for many years. It was a
way to be cool. I also loved music. What I knew was big band music, and
at that point in time Hank Levy was directing the program at Towson, and
that was a feeder band for Stan Kenton and Woody Herman and people like
that. So what I thought I wanted out of life as a musician was to play
in a big band and be on the road and that sort of thing. and so that's
why I went there initially. And also I wanted to study arranging and composing,
and he was a great arranger and composer. Ironically, most of what he is
known for is his work with odd time signatures, and I remember at the time
delving deeply into those charts of his and thinking: "is this really going
to have any practical application in my life as a musician?" Because I
thought as a jazz musician that I would basically be playing in 3/4 and
4/4. I had no idea how well it would serve me down the road.
Who are some of the other people you came into contact there?
Well, one of the most important was Ellery Eskelin, who was also a student
at the school. We played quite a bit together. As far as fellow students
at that school, that's one of the few people that stayed with music, I'm
sorry to say. As far as other musicians down in Washington, D.C. that I
played with: a fantastic drummer named Mike Smith, Bernard Sweetney. This
is early on. Later on I played a lot with Gary Thomas and Dennis Chambers
and George Colligan who's from Baltimore also ? but that was a good seven
or eight years later. But I also played in a house band in Washington,
D.C., in a rhythm section with Marc and often with Mike Smith ? and that
afforded me the opportunity to play with everybody that came into town.
Albert Dailey, Sonny Stitt. I basically had my ass kicked on the bandstand
on a regular basis. I have my Sonny Stitt like everyone else. He called
"Stablemates" off, and he was famous for counting off tunes not only at
fast tempos but in remote keys far from their original. So it was like
"Stablemates" in B at some ridiculously fast tempo. I'm doing my best to
just deal, and about two choruses into his solo he just looks back, takes
the horn out of his mouth, and says "what're you gonna play now, white
boy?" It was a terrifying musical situation. But I think it served a purpose
on some level. It did motivate me to get something together, although I
don't know if the motivation was a positive one. I also met Billy Hart
in Washington, D.C.; that was years later. He was there because his mother
was ill. So that was the first chance I had to play with him.
That's fascinating, because for several months I was catching Marc's
trio every week, and it was usually you and him and Bill Stewart ? but
when Bill wasn't there, Billy Hart was there. I had no idea that the three
of you had this interconnected personal history.
Right, although I don't think I ever played with Marc and Billy together
in Washington. So there is an interconnection there, but it's tenuous.
I guess there is the theory that "if I can play with this person and I
can play with this person, then I can play with these two people together."
Who were some of the primary influences on your instrument? Was there
anybody in particular, early on?
There are definitely some figures. I would have to say an important
figure for me has been Gary Peacock, mostly because at one point he came
into town play in Washington and needed to borrow an instrument, and I
loaned mine to him. I'm sorry to say I didn't really even know who he was
at the time. But I fell in love with his playing. And he was also important
as a mentor to me; he allowed me to hang out with him from that point on.
He showed me a lot of good information not only conceptually, but also
just physically playing the instrument ? ways to save myself from physical
danger down the road. Musically, my influences are not that much different
from many others ? although I really dig George Kirby and Tommy Potter.
There are more seminal recordings of individuals that have been really
important to me more so than their entire output. Like Buster Williams'
playing on this one Harold Land record I love, just for the attitude of
it. Some Miroslav Vitous pieces. And of course, all the other greats: Ron
Carter and Paul Chambers and George Duvivier. George Duvivier's quarter-note
feeling I think is greatly underrated. Milt Hinton. As far as important
players today I feel like Mark Dresser, as far as what he's doing sonically.
There's not that much that interests me frankly on a harmonic and melodic
? playing over tunes and whatever. I think the bass still suffers from
a cavalier attitude to the content of what's played in improvising over
tunes. I'm trying to undo that on a certain level.
When did you start to have that inclination, to challenge the received
Well I think hearing Gary live had a lot to do with that; having the
feeling that he played what I would call "legitimate vocabulary" on the
instrument which I didn't hear that often. I know it's a subjective term,
legitimate vocabulary, but I guess what I'm talking about is an improvised
solo that would stand on its own no matter what instrument was playing
it, just by the actual content of the materials. Of course anything that
sounds great on an instrument sounds great on an instrument and that should
be enough. But sometimes I feel like bass solos are either gimmick-laden
or displays of technique, to no real musical end.
So, almost a compositional ethos.
Right, exactly. Because I feel like other instrumentalists are held
to a higher standard in that respect. I know it's icing on the cake anyway
as far as most bandleaders are concerned ? and most listeners as well.
But I think that discipline carries over into what I play as accompaniment,
and musicians can hear the difference, I'd like to think. If you sweat
the details. I guess I'm detail-oriented that way, maybe almost to a fault.
How long were you in D.C.?
I was in the Baltimore-Washington area from '78 to '83. Then I came
to New York for two years. Then I went back in '85 and didn't come back
until '92. So a total of 12 years.
Why was your New York stay only two years?
I was given a full scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music. They
wanted fairly accomplished players to play in their big band in the first
year they were initiating their jazz program. They offered full tuition
and a one-year master's degree, so that was too good to pass up in a way.
So I moved up here and I was doing fairly well, actually, getting some
nice gigs. But in a way I was overwhelmed by the scene. I felt like my
sense of identity was not going to be able to form being confronted with
so much input. So I found that my playing was very day-to-day: "okay, I
want the tone of so-and-so and the time feel of so-and-so and the expressiveness
of so-and-so." I was losing myself. So I felt like I needed to kind of
go away and cogitate on what it is that my musical identity was going to
be, and try to formulate that into some kind of musical concept, and then
come back. That's what I wound up doing. I don't know how forged it is,
because I play in so many different settings that in a way it's hard for
me to remember who I am. I feel like I have a little more of an identity
than I did at the time.
Was it upon your return to New York in '92 that you dove into this
creative music scene in earnest, or had that been brewing for a while?
Well, actually, when I had lived in New York before, Ellery had been
here for a few years already. He had been playing with this drummer Phil
Haynes. I had always been interested in breaking up time and finding some
other role for the bass, even if it was in the framework of standard songs
and bebop vocabulary. And those predilections served me when I started
playing with Phil. We formed a quartet called Joint Venture. We were still
playing some standard tunes, but in a very loose way. So that was the first
situation at least recording-wise where I really let that go. We were kind
of in <i>terra incognito</i>, without a real model for what we were
doing. That was really where I first had exposure to that type of playing.
And those guys also had their associations with other players in New York,
and I maintained that relationship when I was playing in Baltimore-Washington
in the late-'80s, early-'90s. So when I moved back again it was kind of
like a dual existence, playing with people in that scene. I also met Tim
Berne through there, and Dave Douglas and people like that. But also playing
with Fred Hersch and other people who are dealing in a mainstream setting
? although they're still doing their type of subversion, a subtler sort
of subversion. So I kind of had that dual personality; I do love to do
both things. And since then this whole scene has arisen where there are
people who do both ? like Don Byron and Uri Caine, where they are masters
of the tradition, and looking for that middle ground between there and
the avant-garde. So that has become a way to do things.
Given that you're a participant in both sides of that ? you mentioned
earlier that it was sometimes hard to know who you are. Is it a crisis
of identity to move from one conception to another?
Pretty soon I'll be embarking on a tour with Paraphrase in the Southwest,
and of course that music is totally improvised. And then right after
I come back I'll have to do a concert with Fred where I'll be playing tunes
over changes ? which is something I won't have even considered in a conscious
way for the past three weeks. And it's a jarring transition. But to answer
your question: I do feel the pull and tug both ways on me, but I think
in a way that's what I want. Because I also confronted early on in my career
whether I wanted to become an orchestral musician or chamber musician ?
somebody that worked in defined parameters ? and I realized that I really
didn't have the temperament for that. I didn't have the desire to practice
excerpts thousands of times until I had perfected them. So I think I'm
really getting what I asked for at a certain level. My identity is going
to have to emerge from the decisions I make and how successfully I deal
with them ? not only long-term as far as who I decide to play with and
record with ? but also in the moment, improvising, if I just go ahead and
make a decision and deal with that decision in an improvisational situation.
I wandered off track there a bit.
No, that makes sense. And leads me to another question, which I'm
going to keep purposefully vague. I think historically it's pretty clear
what makes a really terrific jazz bass player; you can enumerate some qualities
that make a bass player ideal for a straight-ahead jazz setting. In this
other scene that you're a part of ? not only the free-improvised thing,
but also the compositional stuff that's experimental or avant-garde or
what have you ? what characteristics make a bass player especially well-suited
to that kind of music?
I think many of the characteristics would be the same. In my experience
? not only in my own belief, but other musicians and the way they respond
? sound is the primary element. Maybe not so much in the traditional settings,
where groove is just as important a factor. I think in newer music, having
either an identifiable sound or a beautiful sound or a unique sound is
really important. And in jazz, whether it's avant-garde or mainstream,
your sound is your calling card. All the greats ? you can recognize them
in a very short period of time, if not one or two notes. I think that's
still of paramount importance, even in the avant-garde or new music. I
think if you can groove and play excellent time, that's of course also
a major factor. I think as far as new music goes, being able to digest
written material fairly quickly is also an important factor, just because
the way today's scene is, you're going to have to play in lots of different
settings to cobble together a living ? so if you can learn music quickly
with little rehearsal, I think it's a feather in your cap. Although artistically
I don't know how important that is. I mean, a lot of music today involves
having to read, then improvise, then read complex written passages, and
then improvise some more, and sometimes do both simultaneously. I think
also your empathy with other musicians is crucial; do the other musicians,
when they're playing with you, feel like they're being heard? There's a
give-and-take there. Although in new music there's also a place for the
person who's just going to carve out their space regardless of what's going
on, and that can also work. But I find that the harmonic component of playing
either can be important or not important, as far as improvising goes. I
find myself sometimes getting caught up because of my preoccupation with
harmonic content ? it can be a hindrance to what I create in the moment.
And of course I admittedly do a disservice to this music by lumping
it all together. Your stuff with Paraphrase must feel totally different
from what you do in Dave Douglas' Parallel Worlds group, or Uri Caine's
Right, but I think they're all of a philosophy of going for something
new. I think the methods are different but the philosophy is the same.
And it's quite different from some mainstream playing, where the focus
is on the past. So yeah, the techniques are different. And the reasons
I play with these people are different. I think maybe with Dave it's because
I can read complex material and keep it together; maybe with Uri it's more
of a groove thing or he wants a certain energy. And with Tim it's more
because of the compositional connection we have, and the harmonic connection
when we improvise freely. They're different, even though the desire to
create something individual and new is the same.
Let's talk about Paraphase now, since that tour is coming up. When
did you first start playing with Tim?
I think the first time I ever played with Tim was in a big band also
concocted by Phil Haynes. It was called the Corner Store Syndicate, back
in '95 or so. It was quite a band: Marty Ehrlich and Ellery and Herb Robertson,
Frank Lacy. It was a pretty sprawling thing. So we played in that band.
And then there was a time when Tim was doing a week with Bloodcount at
the old Knitting Factory, right when it was closing. And Mike Formanek
couldn't make it so he asked me to sub on that, which, with fear, I did.
But I had a good time with that. And shortly after that I just invited
him and Tom up to my house to do a session ? because at the time we had
a swimming pool in the front yard and it was summertime, and I thought
it would be great for everyone to get a break from the city and do some
playing. So we did, and it was enough fun that Tim wanted to set up a tour
of just blowing free. So that's how that came about. It worked; we did
a couple of live recordings, one of which was somebody just recording it
unbeknownst to us, and then he came up to us after the concert and said
"I have this thing, and I think it's pretty good. Maybe if you're interested
we can work something out." So the second record was made without our knowledge
That was Visitation Rites?
I can't remember which is the second. But we didn't even know we had
made a record until after the fact.
In a way, that may have helped.
There's something to be said for not knowing tape is rolling, I'll tell
So, I haven't heard it, but you just did something with Phil Haynes
last year, right? A kind of bluegrass thing?
Right, Free Country.
Is that like Bill Frisell territory?
I wouldn't say that. It's his take on American music from the 19th Century.
Hank Roberts plays on its and Jimmy Allende plays acoustic guitar. So I
guess as far as the Americana standpoint you could draw a parallel to Bill's
music. But they're Phil's arrangements, for the most part, and I think
they're pretty creative ? about as creative as you can get with that material
and still have it be recognizable. And Hank plays amazingly on it. It's
more of a compositional concept album than a blowing album, per se. And
quite different for Phil, too, I think.
Getting back to Paraphase ? I'd like to talk about how that works
musically, how that trio functions. I'd like to confront you with something
Mike Formanek said: he noted that the rapport he has with Tim is very easy
for a number of reasons, one of which is that Tim has a really deep understanding
of the bass (the bass clef, and that whole range). But in Paraphrase he
generally plays alto, and I'm wondering whether you find that statement
to be true in your experience.
Well, I had never thought of it in those terms. I know that he hears
everything that I do, and it's more than an ear thing ? it has to do with
him being a composer as well, and thinking orchestrally or vertically as
well as horizontally. Also I think the way that he plays, he likes long
development. So I find he will establish some sort of tonality or cellular
material and then develop that from that point ? and I think that's also
a way that I like to function. So that's one way we connect. But yeah,
he has outstanding harmonic sensibility I think. So I'm sure Mike is right,
because he not only hears what I play but then knows what to play over
top of it. I can establish motion if he's static, and he'll stay with it
knowing where it's headed. So he definitely hears in that register. Definitely.
Would you agree that in spite of the instrumentation, this is not
your usual horn-drums-bass trio?
I would like to think so. The aesthetic is quite different, although
in a way it's the stereotypical free-music setting ? from Albert Ayler
to Charles Gayle and everything in between. But I think we really, really
are bringing a composer's sensibility to that music ? not only in microcosm
but also in macrocosm ? trying to sculpt a satisfying set of music. We're
also trying to undo convention, so we might stay with a groove for too
long, or obliterate tonality for its effect. But I think we're still striving
for something recognizable, even though we're trying to create it spontaneously.
Trying to sincerely play what we're hearing with no preconceptions. And
it can be exhilarating but also disappointing, because we really are going
out there with no script. I think the people really respond to the fact
that we're on this tightrope and trying to do something in the moment;
I think they appreciate the energy that we go at that task with. They really
respond to it. So much so that we've joked about it: it makes you question
the practice of writing and rehearsing music and trying to put that together,
if this often seems to be more successful.
But that's not something that you could do with any other two musicians.
No, it's really not. I've tried that with other people, and I don't
have the history with them to know what they're going to do. There's something
also magical about certain people that just works all the time, and I think
it has nothing to do with what they're playing ? it's more if they're hearing
you and I'm hearing them.
That brings me back to a phrase you used earlier: "legitimate vocabulary."
It strikes me that you could say there's a legitimate vocabulary that evolves
when people are playing free together, if they have a mutual understanding.
I don't know if that makes any sense.
It's like you and I having a conversation. You could say anything you
want, and then how I respond could be how the conversation goes. As long
as your statement is intelligible, then I have the chance to respond. But
if I'm trying to have a conversation with you and you're free-associating,
then I either have to start free-associating as well (and then it becomes
a different thing, which could be just as cool) or hold on to trying to
bring it back to this other conversation (and if you're still free-associating,
I'll get frustrated and shut down). So in a way I think it boils down to
feeling like you're being heard. When everybody feels like they're being
heard, then everybody becomes themselves in a very full way. And that usually
results in good music. I think that's what people that come to hear jazz
music want; they want to come to a concert and have an experience where
they hear people being themselves. And if you're doing it fully, then it's
going to have some power to it. I think that's what people are after, really.
That demands quite a bit from a musician, because you have to give
yourself up to a performance every single time.
Right. But you know, it can also be the easiest thing in the world.
I think that's why people wonder "why is this guy so much in demand? There's
nothing extraordinary about his playing that I can see, but everybody wants
him in their band." That's because of this feeling that they create, like
anything is possible; whoever the boss is, or the other musicians, say
"hey, I'm hearing all this stuff to play." That's the feeling we're all
after. It's kind of like you want to feel like you belong in a community
or in a family. You want to feel like what you have to say matters, and
that it's being taken seriously by other people and they're with you. So
I think it's the same, it's like a societal thing. That's the other beauty
of this music, and the reason I opt not to play orchestral music ? it's
that it really is about the individuals you're playing with, and it has
the chance to be totally new and different each time, for good or bad.
It's not going to be boring.
Another musician for whom that's true, no matter how many times I
see him, is Tom Rainey. I wonder if you could speak to your rapport with
Tom, especially in Paraphrase, and how that differs from your rapport with
other drummers, and from other rhythm teams in general?
The advantage I have in playing with Tom is that we've done so much
over the years. Last year we were laughing because there was a six-week
period where each of us played with no one else, although we played in
three different projects together. So we were mocking being jealous, like
he was finally going to play with another bass player. And in a way it's
kind of like a marriage. Tom is amazing; I think you hit the nail on the
head there too. He just played on a record I did with Tim and Uri, and
one of the hallmarks of the session was that I had some multiple takes
of certain tracks, and he plays totally differently on each one. Orchestrates
the music ? even intricately-written music ? he orchestrates it for the
drumset, and it'll be totally different each time. And yet will still work
perfectly for the music. He's an improviser in the true sense of the word,
and I think to the level that he's a daredevil, I don't think people really
realize it because it sounds so right when he does it.
Another thing that strikes me about the two of you is that he's another
person who's very active in the straight-ahead context as well; the two
of you play together in the Fred Hersch Trio. He's conversant in that language,
and it's as if he brings that kind of tradition and fluidity and ease to
these other, more radical contexts.
And he can pretty much do anything: any types of complex time signature
things. We play in one of Andy Laster's bands together, and that is some
of the most difficult structures to improvise on that I've ever been confronted
with. I can't even imagine another drummer playing that music, in a way.
Tom is born for that music, and if he's not available for one of Andy's
gigs, then we just don't play. He's a very deep musician, and he brings
the same looseness to that difficult music, and he's just a total daredevil;
he just dives in, and we all use him as a crutch in that sense. And what
we laughed about also was that we listened to a lot of the same music in
our teens, even though we didn't know each other we were both into the
What music was that?
You know, Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Buddy Rich Band. Silly things.
Led Zeppelin. But the same records, things like that. So it's a weird coincidence.
Maybe that plays some role in that.
At the same time, I've seen you often in situations with drummers
who would destroy a lot of bassists.
[laughing] Who are you talking about?
Well, the first time I saw you was in Philly playing with Uri Caine
and Ralph Peterson; Ralph is a powerful guy to begin with, and this night
he was especially on fire. And then I saw you with Don Byron's band a while
ago on a night where Jack DeJohnette was everywhere at once. Are there
any things in particular that prepared you for dealing with such heavy
Well, really as far as playing with Jack goes, I can't overestimate
the amount of time I've spent listening to him in my life. So in a way
I felt like it was the easiest thing in the world to play with him. Not
only because I was familiar with the feeling of how he plays; the thing
I wasn't prepared for was that everything he plays comes out of the music.
So he could be doing whatever it is, and it could sound remote to the listener
in the audience, but it usually comes out of a perfectly logical place
in the music. So I found it the easiest thing in the world to play with
him. It was like, I drive a Toyota Corolla wagon, and this was like getting
in a Rolls Royce and sitting in the back; the ride was unbelievable, it
was so smooth. It was really easy. And actually with Ralph too. Ralph plays
strongly, and he's out for blood all the time, which I totally dig. But
again, he listens ? it's unbelievable. I still haven't figured out how
he can play as loudly as he does, and he hears everything that you do.
He doesn't miss a thing. So when you're listening like that, it seems to
naturally hook up. Plus, when somebody does what they do with that kind
of conviction, you can pretty much glean the intent of what they mean.
I think I'm pretty flexible that way; I'll hear what somebody means and
try to make it work. So I guess my conciliatory tendencies on the bass
also help to make that work. I feel like with drummers, as long as they
put the beat kind of in the same space each time ? where one beat is the
same distance from the next one as it was from the last ? that I should
be able to find a way to make it work. And maybe it's just because I've
been lucky enough to play with really excellent drummers in the recent
past, but there really aren't many drummers I can think of where I just
can't seem to get any sort of compatible relationship going.
A while ago you talked about how you first thought you'd be playing
in a big band. I know you did play in the Ken Schaphorst Big Band. What
can you say about that group, and what other chances have you had to play
in a setting like that?
Ken's band was a pleasure to play with. I got called at the last minute
to do a recording with him, so that was the genesis of that. I basically
came in and played the music, and wasn't familiar with his music prior
to that. But I like his writing very much. I don't know what I can say
about the experience other than that I enjoyed it. We did a gig in Portugal
on a festival. I think he's a pretty advanced writer. I also wanted to
do a lot of arranging and writing for big band, that was kind of my thing;
I would have been happy to have wound up where he is, as far as orchestration
and voicing goes. So between that and occasionally I would sub on the Vanguard
band, when Dennis Irwin was out with Scofield or whatever. So those have
really been my only big band experiences for quite some time. I enjoy it,
it's an old thrill in a way, to try to drive a band that's that big.
Is that something you'd like to do for yourself, start writing for
an ensemble that size?
Maybe not that size. I would like to maybe come up with a small big
band, five or six horns. You know, take advantage of the flexibility that
that affords you. Budgetarily I don't know if that's in my future. Maybe
if I get a grant to do that sort of thing, it would make it feasible. But
yeah, I feel like I'm studying a lot of denser harmonic music, and I'd
like a way to realize that. So a multi-horn thing would definitely be one
way to do that.
Let's talk about Jagged Sky. That's a group that had played for some
time before you recorded. What's the history of that band?
Well I had known Ben Monder for years and years, from when I was first
in New York in '83. He was in the Bronx at that time and I was living in
Riverdale, so somehow we met at someone's session and because we lived
nearby we played quite a bit. I think Ben is still an unrecognized genius
of the guitar. He has an underground reputation but I think he's much heavier
than the status he enjoys in the public warrants. So he was somebody I
wanted to start a band with, because he has an orchestral sensibility to
the guitar, so in a way you get the sound and looseness of the guitar without
the limiting aspects of the piano, and sonically it would open a lot of
areas up. I think I had been playing with Jeff Hirschfeld some at the time,
and through him I met Dave Binney. Who I was not aware of, and he's another
player that's much heavier than his calendar warrants. He's still kind
of undiscovered, and an amazing writer as well. So I just thought that
guitar and alto was an interesting combination and I loved both of their
playing, and then Dave recommended Kenny Wolleson who had just got into
town, and wasn't the busiest man on the planet as of yet. So we started
playing together and it just took a while to get a record deal nailed down.
I didn't want to fund something myself. So I finally got a deal with Soul
Note and did that. Unfortunately I've gotten a little too busy as a sideman
to stay up on that, but I want to resuscitate that band and begin writing
for it again. Hopefully that'll happen in the near future. But it's kind
of lain dormant for the last year or so.
You've been touring an awful lot; last year you probably spent more
time away from home than you did at home.
I just did my income taxes and added up the number of days I was not
at home, and it was 170. So almost six months. The fall I was gone almost
three months. Earlier in the year I had been doing these little run-outs
The other group I've seen you lead is a band with Tim, Uri, and Jim
Black. And you were playing steel guitar.
Well this is kind of the initial incarnation of the band that this record
is going to be coming out of. I asked Jim to play, but he's unavailable
95% of the time. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought Tom
would be the perfect person to play these compositions that I had written
for this group. So I just switched over to that. The new record will be
out on May 22 I think, on Premonition.
I'm assuming that that group grew out of the fact that you were exploring
this new instrument. Why did you take that up?
I think it's another situation where there's nothing practical about
the choice. Just like the bass, I just loved the sound of it. And in my
unbridled arrogance I wanted to see if I could find some other sounds on
the instrument that hadn't been done before. Because as much as I loved
the sound, I had always pretty much heard it in the same context. Whether
it's accompanying a singer like George Jones in the country music vein,
or the jazzier use of it (but still by country artists, like Buddy Ammons
and Jimmy Day and people like that). So I felt there was room for it to
be used in a different context, and I liked the chordal possibilities of
it, and the way it could maybe interlace with the piano or another guitar,
which I might want to explore in the future. But I wasn't really prepared
for the mind-numbingingly difficult way the instrument is built. It's a
really complicated piece of equipment, and it takes a lot of time to visualize
how you're going to realize what you have in mind. So actually on this
record there's only one piece where I play the pedal steel. But I hope
to incorporate it in the future with other situations.
Do you feel like the songs you wrote for this project had something
to do with that?
Definitely. The piece I play it on, it's an integral part of the composition.
The other pieces are more about a certain energy that I was trying to create,
whether with the exact individuals involved (Tim and Uri and Tom) or just
incorporating the piano; I really wanted to see how Tim would function
in a setting where the harmonic restraints were dictated. And I think he
plays great on it. The way he hears around shapes like that is really unique,
I think. And it has a little more aggressive energy than the prior recording.
But it's a different band, so a different personality.
I remember that band as having a strong forward-leaning energy, especially
That's the feeling I was hoping to try and generate. Caffeinated.
So what's on the agenda now? You've got the Paraphrase tour coming
I have a Paraphrase tour coming up in another week and a half or so.
So we'll do two weeks in the Southwest on that. And before I do that I'm
doing a new record with Marc Copland. A ballad record on HatHut. So I'll
be doing that before I leave. I also have a solo concert coming up in late-April.
It'll be in New York, and I'm going to do something with a laptop. Something
with bird songs; my hobby is bird-watching, so I'm trying to maybe incorporate
that directly into the music somehow. And then I have some gigs with Ralph
Alessi's band in town. They have another record coming out on Ravi Coltrane's
label. That should be an interesting record, that's with Nasheet Waits
and Jason Moran. And then there's a quintet thing with Dave Gilmore and
Don Byron and Nasheet. And then I do some jury duty in Orange County. And
we just did a trio record with Uri a couple of weeks ago, that I think
Olive is going to drop some things on. Then I'm going to tour with Bill
Carrothers this summer. And Don also started a new band, I'm going to be
doing some dates with that. That's with Ron Miles and Ralph Peterson, and
Ed Simon is going to play piano on that. Let's see, what else? I'm doing
a new record with James Emory that Joe Lovano's playing on. And then Dave
is going to start playing with that Witness group. And somewhere in there
I hope to get gigs for my own band. It sounds busy, but I really haven't
been that busy so far this year. It doesn't feel that way anyway, maybe
because I'm so used to the wall-to-wall thing.
You've been conditioned.
I guess so. Yeah, when you're out there you think "Man, I can't wait
to get home and just lay around and be at home." And then after three or
four weeks you start longing for Terminal C at Newark or something. It's
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